Edwards and Demons (Part I)

I’ve fielded a few requests to publish a paper I wrote as my final project in Jonathan Edwards class. Religious Affections has been a book that’s endured for a reason. Edwards wrote it that men may have assurance of their salvation through understanding the difference between authentic and counterfeit religious affections. I wrote my paper exploring the role of Satanic delusion in convincing men that they are saved when they are not. Writing this paper opened my eyes to see how pernicious, malicious, and vile Satan truly is. The first half of the paper investigates Edwards’ major themes throughout Religious Affections, and the second half is focused on Satan’s work in our lives and the lives of unbelievers. I’ll be posting this in several pieces over the next week.

Affections are tricky things. Since the Enlightenment, the domain of the word has continued to shrink, beaten back before the onslaught of scientific rationalism, utilitarianism and a natural humanism skeptical of metaphysics. A shell of what it used to be, “affections” remains within the English language as little more than a placard for romantic feeling. This is not the understanding Jonathan Edwards brought to the word “affections,” and we must come to terms with his further reaching use of it if we are to comprehend his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.

This weightier understanding is made clear from the very beginning of the treatise, as Edwards declares his thesis to be that “[T]rue religion, in great part, consists in holy affections” (236).  Seeing that a great deal hangs in the balance with how the word is defined, Edwards writes, “Here it may be inquired, what the affections of the mind are?–I answer, The affections are no other, than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul. . . .The will and the affections of the soul are not two faculties; the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will and inclination, but only in the liveliness and sensibility of exercise” (237).

While the connection between the will and the affections is primarily reserved for discussion in The Freedom of the Will, it is essential to grasp that “affections” are to be understood as all of the motivating factors that lead to action. Indeed, actions are proof of the reality and strength of the affections. Every action is the result of a cause, and the cause that motivates action is the sum of all the warring loves within the soul. A man will do what he loves and nothing else. Paschal agrees in his Pensees: 

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

If it be the sight of the excellency of Christ and the greatness of God that captivates the heart, a man will endure immense suffering because his love for Christ outweighs his love of avoiding pain. If his chief desire is self-preservation, a man will avoid doing any action or believing any principle that he perceives will bring upon him a great deal of risk to his person. What causes our highest delights will be that which we sacrifice all else to preserve.

To support his thesis that love to God is the essence of all true religion, Edwards cites a number of texts and inferences. The Shema and greatest commandment do not consist of knowledge or duty, but rather that “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh alone. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5). The eventual exile was not predicated by a failure to adhere to the ritualistic sacrificial code (Amos 5:21-23), but rather by hardness of heart (Ezek 3:7), a theme repeated by Jesus in his continual rebuke of the Pharisees (Mark 3:5). While the Israelites’ cultic practices may have seemed to be authentic worship upon a superficial first glance, the deadness of their hearts unstirred by love to Yahweh rendered such actions moot. Though actions may be done by counterfeit, the motivation of the action determines if they are counterfeit or not, as love to God is the motivation behind all acts which are outworkings of genuine religious affections.

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